Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Exceptionalism, Moral Relativism & Foreign Policy - All Men Are Not Created Equal

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

United States Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776

"The danger, I think, is when the United States . . . thinks that we can simply impose [our] values on another country with a different history and a different culture."

President Obama, quoted in Obama Hopeful on Mid-East Peace, BBC, 2 June 2009


With Obama, we see a retreat from the policy of promoting democracy, and a fundamental shift in philosophy from American exceptionalism as defined by our ideals to a world of moral relativism, where we must now accord equal respect to philosophies antithetical to our own.
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We, as a nation, are unique. Unlike almost every other nation on earth, we are not defined by our genetic similarity, nor by a single coherent culture. We are instead defined by devotion to an ideal. It is the ideal summed up in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, that that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That idea is what has animated our political philosophy for centuries. It is by its very terms universal, an ideal not limited to our borders.

We have fought to defend that philosophy through many wars, though we have not until recently attempted to explicitly export it. That changed with 9-11. The vile radicalism and racism of Salafi Islam that animated the 9-11 attackers thrived under the autocratic and corrupt autocracies of the Middle East. Thus Bush came to view exporting our philosophy to these autocracies as a method of self defense. Indeed, for all of the talk about WMD and the truly evil nature of Saddam Hussein, the ultimate goal of the Iraq invasion was to establish a nascent democracy in the heart of an autocratic Arab world, and a democracy that as closely as possible gave voice to the philosophy expressed in our Declaration of Independence.

Bush planted a seed in the Middle East which seems once again to be growing. This today from the WSJ:

The results of Kuwait's elections last month -- in which Islamists were rebuffed and four women were elected to parliament -- will likely reinvigorate the movement for greater democracy in the region that has stalled since the hopeful "Arab spring" of 2005. It also puts pressure on the Obama administration to end its deafening silence on democracy promotion.

Although ruled by a hereditary monarch, Kuwait is the most democratic of the Arab countries. The press is relatively free, parliament has real power, and politicians are chosen in legitimate elections. However, Kuwait is a part of the Persian Gulf, where the subordination of women is traditionally most severe. Historically, Kuwait's political process was for males only. But in 2005 parliament yielded to female activists and approved a bill giving women the right to vote and hold office.

In 2006 and 2008, several women ran for parliament, though none won. The women that captured four of the 50 seats last month weren't aided by quotas; they won on their own merits. Their success will undoubtedly inspire a new wave of women's activism in nearby countries.

Almost as significant as the women's gains were the Islamist losses. The archconservative Salafist Movement's campaign for a boycott of female candidates obviously fell flat, and the number of seats held by Sunni Islamists fell sharply.

Thus continues a string of defeats for Islamists over the last year and a half from west to east. In September 2007, Morocco's Justice and Development Party, a moderate Islamist group, was widely forecast to be the winner. Its support proved chimerical: It came away with 14% of the seats, trailing secularists. Iraq's provincial elections this January signaled a turn away from the sectarian religious parties that had dominated earlier pollings. This trend, capped by Kuwait's elections, has important implications. . . .

But now, with Obama, we see the triumph of secularism and multiculturalism in our country. And with that, a sort of moral relativism encapsulated in Obama's view that we should not seek to fan our values. In other words, life, liberty and the pursuit of happines are not the right of every person. We must now accord equal respect to others whose views are antithetical to our concept of natural rights - including to the Salafists and Khomeinists who are at war with America, not to mention at war with Judaism, Christianity and every other relgion on this planet. Promotion of democracy abroad is no longer a priority. In its stead is "respect."

This is not any sort of surprise. It has long been apparent that Obama has no particular belief in American exceptionalism nor the natural rights of men. To the contrary, as I've written before:

. . . Obama sees the worlds problems and solutions through the naive and distorted lens of Karl Marx. By this paradigm, he divides the world up into victim groups. He sees America as the victimizer, and economic concerns as the panacea for all ills. For example, in the wake of 9-11, Obama identified the primary cause of Islamic violence as "a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair." We know that is not true – the typical terrorist is just as likely if not moreso to be educated and middle class. Then there was his comment that the "bitter" folk of our nation, those who take principled stands on their religion and Constitutional rights, only do so because they lack economic opportunity. Obama has expressed a similar view of Iran, positing that between his dynamic personality and just the right economic incentives, the mad mullahs can be divested of their religious principles that now drive their world-wide mayhem and murder. Indeed, he even held out WTO membership as the economic key to defusing the mad mullahs, not realizing that Iran had rejected WTO membership in 2006. They value their religion and their revolution far more than they care about the Iranian economy. For all of his intelligence, it would seem that Obama views the world through a naïve and distorted prism that, in the current circumstance, would prove not merely ineffectual, but highly dangerous.

And on Thursday, Obama is about to go further down this road, treating all of Islam as a single bloc, thus putting the screws to all those who would try to reform the Islamic religion. Salafi Islam and Shi'ite Khomeinism are vying to dominate the Sunni and Shia worlds. Both are deadly enemies of American ideals and neither is subject to change by economic incentive. Many in the Islamic world, here and abroad, are opposed to these sects. Yet Obama sees no apparent difference - a circumstance both naive and dangerous.

Amir Taheri, writing on this topic at WSJ, explains:

For the past week or so, the Middle East has been abuzz with speculation about Barack Obama's “historic address to the Muslim world” to be delivered in Cairo on Thursday [June 4]. . . .

. . . [Obama] granted his first interview as President to Saudi television and, later, made a speech at the Turkish parliament in Ankara. On both occasions he highlighted the Islamic element of his background and solemnly declared that the “United States is not and will never be at war with Islam”.

. . . The choice of the date for Obama's address indicates his attention to detail. It coincides with the anniversary of the start of the first battle between Islam, under Prophet Muhammad, and Christendom in the shape of a Byzantine expeditionary force in AD629. The “address to Islam” also marks the 30th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini's demise and the appointment of Ali Khamenei as the new “Supreme Guide of the Islamic ummah”. More importantly, it also coincides with the rebuilding of the Ka'abah, the stone at the heart of Mecca, which had been destroyed in a Muslim civil war.

Rich in symbolism, Obama's “address to Islam” is also full of political implications. Obama is the first major Western leader, after Bonaparte, to address Islam as a single bloc, thus adopting the traditional Islamic narrative of dividing the world according to religious beliefs. This ignores the rich and conflict-ridden diversity of the 57 Muslim-majority nations and fosters the illusion, peddled by people such as Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that Islam is one and indivisible and should, one day, unite under a caliphate.

By adopting the key element of the Islamist narrative, that is to say the division of humanity into religious blocs, Mr Obama also intends to send a signal to the Middle East's nascent democratic forces that Washington is abandoning with a vengeance George W. Bush's “freedom agenda”.

Mr Bush's analysis had been simple, or as Mr Obama suggests, simplistic: the 9/11 attacks were the result of decades of US support for repressive regimes in the Middle East that had produced closed systems in which terror thrived. In an address to university students in Cairo in 2005, Condoleezza Rice explained the “Bush doctrine” in these terms: “For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East - and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course.”

That different course transformed the US from a supporter of the status quo to an active agent for change - including the use of force to remove two obnoxious regimes in Kabul and Baghdad. It also coerced traditional Arab states to adopt constitutions, hold elections, grant women the vote, ease pressure on the media, and allow greater space for debate and dissent.

Mr Obama has started scrapping that policy in the name of “political realism”,

. . .In her recent visit to Cairo to prepare for Mr Obama's visit, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made no mention of human rights, democratisation and good governance. Vice-President Biden's visit to Lebanon, where a crucial election is due on June 7, was designed to hammer home a similar message: Mr Obama is more interested in the country's stability than the victory of democratic forces.

The problem is that the status quo in the Middle East was and remains unstable. Sixty years of “political realist” support for the regimes in the region produced five Arab-Israel wars, civil wars in Lebanon and Yemen, military coups d'état in eight Arab countries, the Islamic revolution in Iran, and two wars between US-led international coalitions and Iraq under Saddam Hussein. . . . .

We will wait to see what The One has to say on Thursday. I fully expect Obama to continue down his incredibly naive path of treating Islam as a rational and single entity that can be tamed with whitewashing of its ills - which, after all, seems to be what Obama means when he says 'respect' - and just the right amount of economic incentive. No promotion of democracy is necessary. If we are lucky, Salafi Islamists will not be able to recover quickly enough from the Bush years to take advantage of all the opportunities the Obama administration presents to them.








3 comments:

Carl said...

Great post. I agree on the centrality of American exceptionalism. And I think you're right that Obama's going to bargain it away in Egypt. In exchange for nothing more than applause.

DGold said...

American Exceptionalism. We, as a nation, certainly are unique. Just as every other nation is unique. But it's wonderful that we know how wonderful we are and actively seek to impose our will upon everyone else. We've certainly learned the Greeks' perhaps most important lesson: hubris always wins in the end.

Rebeca said...

US President Barack Obama has pledged to use the Olympic Games to restore America’s reputation on the world stage in a powerful address to the IOC in Copenhagen.